After critics and musicians had their say, Local Spins gave readers a chance to pipe in with their favorite releases of the year — and a few more musicians got into the mix, too.
On the last day of 2018, Local Spins presents its third and final “best music of the year” list for your perusal and enjoyment.
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And this time around – after publishing picks from our critics and a select group of West Michigan musicians – we’re giving readers a chance to pipe in with their favorite releases of 2018 (though a few more musicians got into the act, too).
The choices range from national darlings to local faves, and cover the gamut in terms of styles and genres.
And one lucky reader who submitted picks — Bridgett Husted — was chosen at random to receive a special Local Spins gift package featuring a T-shirt, 2019 Calendar and other Local Spins swag. Thanks to all of you for participating.
Congratulations and Happy New Year!
1. American Aquarium, “Things Change” – Brand new band configuration on this album and they don’t disappoint. As always, great lyrical content especially relevant for 2018.
2. Brandi Carlile, “By The Way I Forgive You” – Everything she does deserves to be on a “top” list. Her voice and message are so strong.
3. The War and Treaty, “Healing Tide” – Fresh and lively sound. Fun to listen to. Plus I found out after the fact (from Local Spins) that this band is from Michigan.
4. Brent Cowles, “How To Be Okay Alone” – Not sure what it is, maybe Brent’s voice that makes it great. Plus quality songwriting.
5. Cody Jinks, “Lifers” – Best true country album of the year. Good blend of country and rock.
1. Shame, “Songs Of Praise” – There was no little degree of irony that this should appear so soon after the death of Mark E. Smith; his spirit looms large here. But this is no re-run of “The Fall.” This is a huge, heroic band that has expanded the musical landscape of post-punk. In an age of musical wallpaper, Shame take us back to those days of the late ’70s when bands sounded like their lives depended on the music they were making. If they never make another album, this is a statement for the ages, and my album of the year.
2. The Breeders, “All Nerve” – The “Last Splash” lineup back after 20-odd years, and it’s like they’ve never been away, and perhaps better now. The ’90s never sounded so good in 2018.
3. Low, “Double Negative” – Who left the power tools on while Low was trying to make a record? There’s great music in there somewhere in this daring re-invention. Betting the next one goes somewhere else entirely.
4. Rolling Blackouts C.F., “Hope Downs” – Australians really, really tuned in to their New Zealand neighbors of the ’90’s, The Chills, The Verlaines, The Clean, etc., and putting themselves into this hierarchy quite nicely.
5. The 1975, “A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships” – Just two albums ago, this was a sharp pop group, however, one that seemed split by two different directions. Now it seems, there’s no need for direction at all. Only the best can operate like this, and here Matty Healy’s gang steers increasingly into prog territories, hymns and a Chet Baker-like jazz ballad. The amazing thing is how cohesive it all is.
1. The Boxer Rebellion, “Ghost Alive” – Gorgeous melodies, beautifully poetic and absolutely spine-tingling. “Ghost Alive” is independent rockers The Boxer Rebellion at their most mature and finest.
2. Mitski, “Be the Cowboy” – A full-length album of 2- to 3-minute tracks that is surprisingly deep and complex. This very eclectic group of songs stretches the boundaries of any genre. At times, reminiscent of St. Vincent in the best possible ways.
3. Lindsay Lou, “Southland” – One of the most complete albums of 2018. “Southland” seems to not have a wasted song or note. It will stand the test of time and be one of those albums that we reach back to and play years down the road.
4. Roosevelt Diggs, “Better Days” – Roosevelt Diggs’ 2018 release, “Better Days,” is fun, lyrically inspiring and poetic, and all-around spectacular. They took their time releasing it and it has proven to be worth the wait. Well produced with the addition of some violins, backing vocals, etc., it stops short of being over-produced and stays true to their roots and live performances, and remains true to the Duddles brothers’ underrated harmonies and guitar foundation.
5. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born Soundtrack” – Though it may be difficult for me to separate the movie, which was itself spectacular, from the album, I believe the songs stand on their own. They are supported well by contributions from such great artists as Lukas Nelson, Mark Ronson, Jason Isbell and, surprisingly, Bradley Cooper among others, but the album’s greatness belongs to Lady Gaga. Heart-wrenching and beautiful. What makes this album one of the best is that no one else could have made it this good other than Lady Gaga.
Just like nobody watches the same TV shows in the Netflix/Amazon/Hulu era, nobody listens to the same music anymore. Moreover, they have no need to follow anyone else’s suggestions however “brilliant,” because everybody has their own Spotify or Apple personal playlist these days. Nonetheless, I persevere, swimming upstream into a flood of musical indifference by preparing an annual “best of” collection for friends and my waning client roster (on CD no less, itself a bygone medium). So, 39 tracks were included in said collection. The best five will be tough, but here it goes:
1. Belly, “Stars Align” – Tanya Donelly got the band back together for their first album in 23 years. “Dove” fits beautifully on the shelf next to their shimmering 1993 and 1995 masterpieces.
2. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Keep A Little Soul” – A sure fire hit in a different day-and-age, this one dates to the “Long After Dark” era and must have been literally forgotten. Issued this year on the “An American Treasure” box set, it has all the Petty touchstones but perhaps sounded a little too “Muscle Shoals soul” for the album/radio rock he was cranking out at the time.
3. Blackberry Smoke, “Run Away From It All” – A standout track from the wonderful “Find A Light,” a beautifully written, recorded and produced album of Southern rock. I call this album a “creeper” because the songs reveal themselves more and more with each listen. Ample volume speeds up this process.
4. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, “Stealin’, Stealin’” – Austin meets L.A. as the two classic Americana singer/songwriters join forces for “Downey to Lubbock,” an irresistible collection of their mutual favorites. Every song is fully produced and realized. Too often albums like this run out of gas and get padded with tossed off acoustic demos and what not.
5. Mark Knopfler, “Good On You Son” – At long last, Knopfler returns to the groove-oriented, guitar-centric music for which he is beloved. No more Robin Hood crap. As great a collection as he’s ever done, solo or with his old band, “Down the Road to Forever” was 2018’s surprise treat. The only thing irksome about it is the vinyl LP set is sequenced differently than the deluxe CD, and the latter, naturally, includes some of the best songs as bonus tracks.
1. Billy F. Gibbons, “The Big Bad Blues” – The ZZ TOP founder doesn’t stray far from the boogie-blues farm. Just some added instrumentation relative to his trio but boy does this album whomp it up. 2018’s “you can’t turn it loud enough” winner.
2. Nicki Bluhm, “To Rise You Gotta Fall” – She left Marin County for Nashville and to record an album in Muscle Shoals. The sound of a topflight singer and writer bravely finding new artistic heights to scale. Not so far away but still a distance from her hippie rock and celebrated YouTube “Van sessions.”
3. Jonathan Wilson, “Rare Birds” – L.A. session player and bandleader-for-hire, Wilson runs Roger Waters’ touring band while the crotchety old coot pretends to play bass and castigates Trump and Israel. “Rare Birds” is impeccable, for the most part, and would be the best album of 2018 if it were about five songs shorter.
4. John Coltrane, “Both Directions at Once” – Unheard Coltrane from 1963? It can’t not be one of the year’s best.
5. Kamasi Washington, “Heaven and Earth” – Another expansive gem from the genius of modern jazz with one foot planted in the traditions. I wish I could afford the vinyl version.
1. The Crane Wives, “Daydreamer,” “Here I Am,” and “Hollow Moon” – The people who write the songs that resonate the fiercest inside my skull. An anthem of hope, a lament for Flint, and a cry in the dark.
2. Kamasi Washington, “Heaven And Earth” – Jazz is alive and well in the hands of this master innovator. I will follow him off the cliff.
3. Earth Radio, “Earth Radio” – An astonishing set of music. This band can only be contained to Grand Rapids by the complete collapse of the record industry.
4. They Might Be Giants, “I Like Fun” – An album-length meditation on disaster, dismemberment, and death. By a comedy band. https://youtu.be/D-1SqAJHhFc
5. Vox Vidorra, “Vox Vidorra” – Barely released, all but renounced by its creators, and a powerful set of music evincing anger, sadness, and love. This song didn’t even make the final cut, and can’t be purchased.
I write about the shows I go to see, mostly to remember them, here: https://stolenwallpaper.blogspot.com/
NANCY KUNKEL, LORI MANN, LOIS LLOYD
These three readers all chose Grand Rapids band Mannhattan’s “Think Twice” as the year’s best album.
Love their sound/cute drummer – Nancy Kunkel
The music is classic, yet fresh. It is real music without computer generated sounds. Their show is full of energy, with great sounds and very polished entertainment. The lyrics are thought-provoking. – Lori Mann
These are a group of 21-year-old artists who are passionate about their music and take their influences from the world of punk rock as well as classic Beatles, Rolling Stones and Zeppelin. Just released their first album this summer! – Lois Lloyd
Best Songs (in no particular order):
“TooTimeTooTimeTooTime,” The 1975 – Their new album didn’t quite do it for me, but I love the way this song blends electronic and pop influenced sounds.
“Endless Love,” Super Future – This song perfectly showcases his signature future bass sound and was one of his most widely supported tracks this year.
“Better Not,” Louis the Child – This song, in my opinion, is one of the most catchy and infectious electronic tracks released in 2018.
“Must’ve Been,” Chromeo – I didn’t grow up in the funk era, but this song makes me really wish I did.
“Easy,” Alison Wonderland – It’s one thing to produce your music, but Alison Wonderland has been leading the pack in electronic music for awhile now by continuing to use her imperfect vocals in her own perfect way.
I chose to provide my list of Top 5 featuring local bands. They don’t get enough credit for what they do.
Deepfall, “Awaken” (Album) – They just released this powerful album and it is absolutely amazing. The music draws you in and the lyrics directly emotionally connect for me, so many of us can feel this one, it is so good! By far my number one album this year.
Deepfall, “Ghost” (Song) – This song is the right mix of edgy rock and emotional connection. The words are so true to many of us even if we don’t see them or say them out loud.
No Resolve, “Unity” (Album) – These guys just say what everyone else is thinking. They won the Z93 Next to Rock contest with some of these songs.
Damned by Dawn, “Blood, Sweat & Retrospect” (Album) – This album just plain rocks!
For Tomorrow, “In Vain” (Song) – These guys are brand new to the music scene and they can rock.
JON SHEARS (Bassist for Roosevelt Diggs)
1. Wood Brothers, “One Drop of Truth” – Amazing harmonies and one of the most badass upright bass players
2. Marcus King Band, “Carolina Confessions” – Great hooks and melodies.
3. Michigander, “Midland” – Soul-filled and smooth-flowing.
4. Devil Makes Three, “Chains are Broken” – Another topnotch series of songs and stories.
5. Roosevelt Diggs, “Better Days” – Truly the best work from this band. Amazing compositions and songwriting.
CHRISTOPHER MARTIN (Damned by Dawn)
Great bands live and great people.
1. Damned By Dawn, “Blood, Sweat and Retrospect”
2. Deepfall, “Awaken”
3. Here After Six
5. Bleed the Water
LOGAN DUDDLES (Guitarist-singer for Roosevelt Diggs)
1. Colter Wall, “Songs of the Plains” – This is a young guy (22) out of mid-Canada. A voice that sounds ragged, weathered, and far beyond his years. A real stripped-down and old-school country feel throughout and comes across truly genuine. Standout track: “John Beyers (Camaro Song)”
2. Charley Crockett, “Lonesome As The Shadow” – This was my most listened to artist on Spotify for 2018. Great voice and vocal delivery, songwriting and arrangements.
3. Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra, “Stereoscope” – I’ve been a fan of this band for many years. Great arrangements and unique voice. This album is a departure from past albums. To introduce someone to this band, I wouldn’t start them at this album. It’s the kind of album you need to spend time with. You really don’t start to get until about the fifth time through. Standout track: “Firmament”
4. Michigander, “Midland” – One of my year’s most listened to albums. It’s simply a great album and is slightly out of my normal musical wheelhouse. Very thought-provoking lyrics throughout. Standout track: “East Chicago, IN”
5. Roosevelt Diggs, “Better Days” – I’m slightly biased on this one. An album that consumed my 2018 and I feel fortunate for every ear that it reaches. Standout track: “Everything As It Was”
RYNE CLARKE (The Ryne Experience)
1. Jeff Tweedy, “Warm” – I think Tweedy has some of his strongest songs on this record and it creates a Sonic landscape for the listener. Favorite track: “Some Birds”
2. Rhett Miller, “The Messenger” – The last two Rhett Miller solo records were more country and with this release I think he is back to a songwriter/rock style. Favorite track: “Wheels”
3. Father John Misty, “God’s Favorite Customer” – Not the strongest Misty release but I appreciate him playing drums on this whole record and his collaboration with Johnathan Rado. Favorite track: “Date Night”
4. Jeff Rosenstock, “Post” – This was my introductory album into Rosenstock, with the record dropping the first of the year, it quickly became a favorite. Favorite track: “All This Useless Energy”
5. The Ryne Experience, “Hokey” – Seems a bit lame to call a creation of your own a favorite of the year, but for once I am fully proud of something I’ve put out and I actually want to share it with the world. Not much I would change on my two-year idea. Favorite Track: “Eazy to Peel”
1. “Endless Love,” Super Future – This track beautifully exemplifies current future bass with a beautiful vocal, and it’s West Michigan music!
2. “Hi-Lo,” Minnesota
3. “Breathe,” Charlesthefirst
4. “Pressure,” RL Grime
5. “Choppaz,”Getter & Space Laces
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC